The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky

The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window by Rachel Swirsky

pluckedredflowersThe Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Windowis a fantasy short story about how much one’s world view is shaped by culture, the time period in which one lives and love.

The main character, Naeva, is a powerful magician. She serves the queen of a matriarchal society to the best of her capability.

Naeva’s love for the queen is used to trap her soul, so she can be summoned from beyond the grave to serve forever.

“The Queen needs you, Naeva. Don’t you love her?” Love: the word caught me like a thread on a bramble. Oh, yes. I loved the queen. My will weakened, and I tumbled out of my body. Cold crystal drew me in like a great mouth, inhaling.

This binding is problematic, because the queen doesn’t live forever.

I was captivated by this story. It surprised me because short stories aren’t usually my thing.

During a bout of insomnia one night, I read The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers in one sitting.

You can read it too, if you’d like. It is available in its entirety online: https://subterraneanpress.com/magazin…

There are subtleties in the story about feminine and masculine power, but also mankind’s penchant for judging current culture as superior to all others that have ever or will ever exist.

“It was becoming increasingly clear that this woman viewed me as a relic. Indignation simmered; I was not an urn, half-buried in the desert. Yet, in a way, I was.”

Naeva suffers not only because she’s trapped and cannot die, but also because her matriarchal culture is left behind in the depths of time.

“I had never before been aware of the time that I spent under the earth, but as the years between summons stretched, I began to feel vague sensations: swatches of grey and white along with muted, indefinable pain.”

She changes, but reluctantly and slowly. And love has as large a role in shaping her development as it did in her entrapment.

It is a wonderful fairy tale. I highly recommend it for sleepless nights or a boring lunch hour.

Thanks for reading!

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Whisper by Chris Struyk-Bonn

Whisper by Chris Struyk-Bonn

whisperWhisper has a cleft palate. In this young adult dystopian tale, she and other deformed children are cast out of society because of their abnormalities.

This story is about how she survives and holds her new family, made up of other rejected children, together despite obstacles at every turn.

Whisper was a far darker story than I expected.

Terrible things kept happening to Whisper and I kept telling myself that it would turn around soon. And it didn’t.

If she wasn’t running from someone who was trying to harm her, she was freezing or starving. She’d get a modicum of security and then lose it.

I was really cheering for Whisper to embrace her special abilities, but she never seems to manage it.

Honestly, I was disappointed by the heroine’s decisions at multiple times in this story.

As one of the children tells Whisper: “You will never go far in this world if you don’t know how to rescue yourself.” And, in my opinion, she never did what was best for her own survival.

The author describes the setting as “near future” but if she had taken out the cars, refrigerators, and indoor plumbing, it could just as easily have been the recent past.

It wasn’t too long ago that superstitious people believed birth defects marked someone who would ruin the crops, bring bad luck, or comets shooting across the sky spelled misfortune. In fact, in some parts of the world, this type of thinking still reigns.

I think it’s human nature to try to explain the unexplained and to condemn others for their differences, the physical differences being the easiest to pick out. That doesn’t make it right.

My main complaint about this read was the repetitiousness. After short bursts of frantic activity, Whisper’s life would settle into a routine that was really uninteresting.

If I had to read about her messing up the homemade bread one more time, I was going to put the book down.

Maybe the author was trying to get the reader invested in the process, but I simply wanted the story to move on. I was already interested in Whisper- I was just over the baking and cleaning.

The same feeling hit me during the multiple music lessons and the days spent playing violin on the streets for change. I guess I prefer my dystopian novels with more explosive action and less daily slogging.

Fans of How I Live Now or Gated may enjoy the pacing and story line of Whisper. As for me, I’m headed back to more action-oriented dystopian reads.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. Thanks for reading!

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children, #2) by Seanan McGuire

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children, #2) by Seanan McGuire

downamongDown Among the Sticks and Bones is the back story of the twins, Jack and Jill, and the dark world they wandered through.

It takes place before the events of the first book in the series, Every Heart A Doorway.

The reader learns why the twins are so different and how their strange and disturbing other world opened its door to them in the first place.

The majority of the problem was Jack and Jill’s parents. They had children for reasons other than love.

The father wanted to children to move up in his career. The mother wanted to improve her status with her group of female friends: “A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really.” pg 13.

So, instead of loving Jack and Jill for themselves, their parents instead seek to mold them into a perfect of ideal of what they thought their children should be.

The one bright spot in the twin’s childhood is their grandmother, Louise Wolcott. Chester and Serena, Jack and Jill’s parents, call her in desperation after the birth of the children because they have no idea what they’re doing or how to balance their careers while raising children.

Louise steps in without complaint. She is quite easily my favorite character in the book: “There’s nothing tiring about caring for children you love like your own,” said Louise… pg 34.

Despite Grandmother Louise’s best efforts, Jack and Jill end up fairly emotionally stunted from their parents’ dysfunction. The twin’s discovery of another world leads to some hard lessons about love, belonging and consequences.

“The Moors were beautiful in their own way, and if their beauty was the quiet sort that required time and introspection to be seen, well, there was nothing wrong with that. The best beauty was the sort that took some seeking.” pg 171.

I enjoyed this story. But, I think it should have been combined with Every Heart A Doorway.

I felt like so much of the plot of this book was given away in the first, by what happens. It would have been more enjoyable to learn about Jack and Jill’s Moors in flashbacks rather than a separate story.

That being said, it is a good enough young adult tale for what it is. The fairy tale quality to it is undeniable.

Recommended for readers who like a dark undercurrent of emotion, coming-of-age and self knowledge in their fairy tales. If you liked this book, you may also enjoy A Monster Calls.

One may be better served reading this book before Every Heart A Doorway. I think, if I had read this first, I may have enjoyed it more.

Thanks for reading!

Where the Rock Splits the Sky by Philip Webb

Where the Rock Splits the Sky by Philip Webb

wheretherockWhere the Rock Splits the Sky is the story of Megan, a girl who has lost both her father and mother and who lives on the edge of a strange, haunted area called “The Zone.” In this part of the world, people are driven mad by unknown forces and the world doesn’t follow the normal rules of physics.

The Earth itself has stopped spinning because it was invaded by an alien species that the surviving humans call “Visitors.” One day, Megan is told that her father is still alive and that he is in the Zone.

She has no choice but to go find him. And the adventure begins.

This story was a surreal, heart-pounding adventure from start to finish.

I loved the dystopian aspect of it- the aliens are truly terrifying because the reader isn’t sure what they can or can’t do. It’s not even clear from the start who is or isn’t an alien.

The guessing game makes for some exciting tension. That same unknown quality is extended to the “Zone” itself so that the story at any moment could pass from normal to totally bonkers.

That uncertainty makes this a great read, in my mind.

I did have some complaints- I wanted more to happen during the final, climatic scene. It felt like after such a great build up that things ended too quickly and neatly. But I suppose one can’t have it all.

Also, this book required a great deal of suspension of belief. I mean, for goodness sake, the world has stopped spinning. That’s some fairly serious physics law breaking. And that is assumed from the start.

This novel reminded me of The Gunslinger in that both have western themes and some horror elements to it. This is definitely a more young adult version while Stephen King’s novel was written for adults. It’s also a lot shorter

With those caveats in mind, fans of that series may enjoy this one.

Also, anyone who likes to read young adult, dystopian books might enjoy Where the Rock Splits the Sky. It’s an interesting addition to the genre.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads.

Thanks for reading!

Elizabeth I by Margaret George

Elizabeth I by Margaret George

elizabethiMargaret George writes about Queen Elizabeth I of England and the last years of her reign.

I think most people are aware that Elizabeth’s father was Henry VIII and the tumultuous going’s on that preceded and then ushered in her reign. But fewer are aware of what happened during the later years of her life.

The last years were still exciting and dangerous, filled with invading Spanish armadas (more than one) and power hungry lords. That’s what this book is all about.

I confess: I am a major fan of both Elizabeth I and Margaret George.

“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble women, but I have the heart and stomach of a king and of a king of England, too- and think it foul scorn that Parma or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm.” pg 41.

A few years ago, I had the privilege of visiting Westminster Abbey and seeing the tomb of Elizabeth I. The crowds were such that I couldn’t linger by the effigy but was forced into constant motion, rushed past.

I burst into tears as I exited the area of the church that contained her tomb and I was completely overcome with emotion. My husband led me through the throng again, just so I could spend a moment more near one of my favorite historical figures.

What do I love about Elizabeth I? Let me count the ways!

First of all, she insisted that she was a ruler in her own right, not because she was married to a royal. Elizabeth used the game of courtship to increase her power. That’s hard core.

“Francois had been my last, and in many ways my only, serious marriage possibility. I had been wooed by twenty-five foreign suitors over the years. I never intended to marry any of them, but it was my best tool of diplomacy.” pg 72.

Second, she smart with her power rather than greedy. She navigated a world in which she had few allies because of her religion. And she never accepted defeat. “For my own part, I swear that my heart has never known what fear is. In ambition of glory I never sought to enlarge the territories of my land. If I have used my forces to keep the enemy from you, I have thereby done it for your safety, and to keep dangers at bay.” pg 145.

She was well-learned, charismatic and always knew what to say in public situations.

“It is not possible to see a woman of so fine and vigorous a disposition both in mind and in body. One cay say nothing to her on which she will not make an apt comment. She is a great princess who knows everything.” pg 363.

And finally, she was honest and true to the end of her life to the responsibility of leading her country. Elizabeth I loved her people.

“There will never queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects, and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety, than myself. … And though you have had and may have many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had or shall have any that will love you better.” pg 608.

My quibble with this book was not with the research or the story, which were both fine in my opinion. It was the fact that George split the narrative- most of the chapters are told from Elizabeth’s point of view, but some are from Lettice’s point of view, the mother of Robert Devereux.

I understand Lettice’s narrative was used to explain Devereux’s motivations and unexplained behavior, but I felt as if it slowed the story down. Coming in at 662 pages, this was a book that needed to stay at a fast clip. I didn’t feel as if it achieved that.

That being said, George provides an amazing escape from the world and unparalleled historical fiction, with this story.

The weekend I started this book, my mother had an unexpected heart attack and nearly died. She was in good health and relatively young. It was quite a shock.

Some people spend hours worrying, others in conversation or watching TV to wile away stressful hours.

I picked up Elizabeth I by Margaret George and transported myself to Elizabethan England. There was worry, danger, intrigue… and when I needed to put down the book and attend to family concerns, I could. By the time the weekend was over, I had completed this book and my mother was discharged from the hospital.

It looks as if she will make a full recovery. And I learned quite a bit more about Elizabeth I.

If you are looking for distraction from every day life, this epic tale could fit the bill. Recommended for historical fiction lovers, of course, but also for anyone who desperately needs a way to pass the time.

Thank you, Margaret George, for providing that for me, just when I needed it most.

Thanks for reading!

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert

Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library by Don Borchert

freeforallFree for All is an accurate depiction of life as a librarian in a public library.

Sometimes, the job is funny. Other times, it’s incredibly sad. If you’ve never worked in a library system, this book will reveal some of the secrets of a librarian’s day-to-day life.

Before I worked at a public library, I thought it was a quiet, organized mecca for students and bookworms. Now, that I’ve spent some time on the librarian-side of the desk, I know better. My idea of a library was far too simple.

It is a study hall, archive, playroom, home for the homeless, kitchen, bank, movie theater, video game store, newspaper kiosk and so much more. I guess the appropriate question is: what doesn’t a library do?

And a public librarian is so much more than just a librarian. She is a counselor, a computer wizard, a curator of excellent and free entertainment.

She talks to the lonely, uplifts the lost and helps the public navigate the dangerous waters of the internet.

Librarians are my heroes.

If I ever cease writing for a living, look for me at the library. Odds are, I’ll end up back there.

Perhaps some of the policies at Don Borchert’s library have changed, but at the time that he wrote this book, they charged 50 cents to put a hold in for a patron. This policy shocked me, as my library always offered that service for free.

Borchert cheerfully documents the difficulties with summer reading people vs the school year regulars. It’s a real problem.

If Borchert’s book is too edgy for you- he uses rough language and doesn’t hold back on some of his opinions- read Gina Sheridan’s I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks.

Both are excellent and realistic non-fiction books about the trials, tribulations, and, sometimes, life-enhancing satisfaction of working at the library.

Thanks for reading!

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) by Seanan McGuire

everyheartWhat if children actually fell into other worlds, like Alice in Wonderland or the Pevensies into Narnia, far more often than anyone realized? What if those worlds were superior in every way to the normal, mundane world- not in that they were in heaven, but the child felt finally at home?

And what if those worlds cast the children out, to live in the “real world” again? It might not be a pretty picture.

That is why Eleanor West started a home for children who went away, came back and didn’t belong anymore. All of those reasons, but also, because she went away once too.

“Eleanor West spent her days giving them what she had never had, and hoped that someday, it would be enough to pay her passage back to the place where she belonged.” pg 13.

I loved the basic premise of this story. All of the worlds the children went to were so different, but the fact that the worlds were “other,” tied them altogether.

“‘Real’ is a four-letter world, and I’ll thank you to use it as little as possible while you live under my roof.” pg 20

This story has the drama of a bunch of misfit children all trying to get along, but also the mystery of these other worlds. There’s also a deeper mystery that develops when one of the children seems determined to find a way home- at any cost.

“You will not all find your doors again. Some doors really do appear only once, the consequence of some strange convergence that we can’t predict or re-create. They’re drawn by need and by sympathy. Not the emotion- the resonance of one thing to another. There’s a reason you were all pulled into the worlds that suited you so well.” pg 97

I was concerned when I started this book that it would be too much like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. That was a needless concern.

They are similar in that both contain orphanages for extraordinary children and fantasy has a large part in the story. But that was where I felt the similarities ended.

I also found myself wishing that Every Heart a Doorway was written for adults rather than young adults. This was a fairytale that could have used some darker twists to it.

Seanan McGuire didn’t make this story all rainbows and gumdrops, but I would have liked it to be edgier.

I loved the “longing to belong” feeling McGuire wove into the book. It seems to me to be a quintessential teenage feeling, but I suppose everyone wants to feel completely at home- whatever that might mean.

For some people, that longing is attached to a place, another person, or to the drug addict, it’s the next hit. Other people crave a moment in time, or a particular period in their life.

I would say, on second consideration, “longing to belong” is perhaps the human condition itself.

Recommended for fans of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. If you’re looking for a darker, more adult fairytale, I’d recommend The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

Thanks for reading!